We chatted with attendees at the 2011 Inc. 500|5000 Conference about their businesses and how they got started. We felt compelled to ask about some of their childhood memories and secrets, too. Here's a sampling of their answers.
When did you start your first business, and what was it?
"Selling Snapple out of my school locker."
—Daniel Turner, president, TCG
"A computer consulting business, when I was 14."
—Aaron Dallek, co-founder, Cheap Ink
"A promotional products company called Taste of Jamaica, in 1981."
—Michele Sutton, president, Sutton Ferneries
What's the weirdest thing in your office?
"A suitcase full of broken glass."
—Gene Gray, president, Innovative-IDM
"A sword, inspired by The Art of War."
—Ken Ampy, CEO, Astyra Corporation
"A 6-foot-tall Homer Simpson cutout."
"A green protection stone, given to me by a palm reader 10 years ago."
—Joseph Hodges, CEO, Inetico
"A bust of John Wayne and a 3-foot-tall Godzilla."
—J.J. Frazer, president, New Horizon Security Services
"Besides me? A 200-pound wooden cell phone covered in crystals."
—Wasim Khaled, CEO, Luxmobile
—Darren Slosberg, CEO, Legacy Converting
Who do you wish would friend you on Facebook?
—Jacob Dallek, co-founder, Cheap Ink
—Thomas Gruner, CEO, KG Technologies
—David Smith, CEO, Tekscape
"My first girlfriend."
What business idea do you wish you had come up with?
"Digital picture frames. I had that idea 25 years ago!"
—Kris Mmastrangelo, CEO, Harmony Healthcare International
Name one thing about you that would surprise your employees.
"Growing up, I was the only person in my family who went to church on Sundays."
"I cry a lot at movies."
"I was on an exercise show called Body Electric in the '80s, and I had a mullet."
"I was Miss Jamaica."
"I'm licensed to drive an 18-wheeler."
—Amy Kelly, owner, PicFlips Flipbooks
"I'm an outstanding harmonica player."
—Steven Sullivan, CEO, Sullivan International Group
"I read a few hundred books a year."
—Russell Sarder, CEO, Netcom Learning
What's one memento from your early days you're still holding on to?
"The original checkbook from the first bank silly enough to give us a checking account."
"A note from my dad telling me that he was proud of me."
—Cloud Ettinger, Founder, Red Cloud
What kind of kid were you in high school?
"The second shortest. I was 4 foot 9."
"Kind of like Ferris Bueller. I was always doing bad things, but I never got caught."
"Talkative. I went by J.J., which stood for Jabberjaw."
What's the most fun you've ever had at work?
"Sadly, I really get off on data entry."
"When we land a large account, I dance on the table."
"When we reach our target every month, we throw a party."
If you never had to worry about making money, what would you do?
"I'd take care of my kids. They are 1 and 3."
"I'd make short films."
"I'd sit on the beach all day and play my ukulele."
"I'd be a professional triathlete."
"Charity work; raising money for catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti."
"What I'm doing now."
—Mark Gilreath, CEO, Endochoice
What do you wish you had known when you were launching your company?
"How to fire people faster."
"Don't wait to pay yourself."
"Tread carefully when someone mentions lawyer."
—Steve Sarowitz, founder, Paylocity
If you were dictator for a day, what's the first thing you would change?
"I'd get rid of taxes, of course."
"I'd get rid of both political parties."
"I'd make more hours in a day."
"I would step down. That's no way to lead."
—Stéphane Côme, CEO, LCS Technologies
"Everyone must have a job."
An M.B.A. is...
"Your first failure."
"Thriving in a recession. Once you've done that, you've earned your M.B.A."
"Very important. It definitely gave me skills I use every day."
—Noreen Guanci, CEO, Long Term Solutions
"Actually pretty useful, but nowhere near sufficient."
"A total, utter, absolute, ridiculous waste of time."